broadsideblog

Our Lady Of Perpetual Orthpedics — Or How I'm Learning to Love My Alphabet Soup: MRIs, Xrays And PT

In Health, Medicine on March 18, 2010 at 11:11 pm
A product technician gives a demonstration ins...

My best friend, the MRI machine...Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

Latest headcount: four MDs: orthopedic surgeon (hip specialist); GP (acpuncturist); GP and neurologist. Five, if you include the ER doctor who saw my back spasm at midnight. Three Xrays, one MRI. One walker and a cane.

My most recent MRI — I’ve lost track how many I’ve had over the past decade — was the weirdest I’ve had as the machine focused on my lower back.

If you’ve never had one, they are extremely challenging if you are the slightest bit (and who isn’t?) claustrophobic: you lie on an extremely narrow platform that slides into a round machine  — you’re the center of its donut. The smooth gray plastic interior is no more than six or eight inches from your face and I was in it for only 20 minutes — it can be 40 or more. Our MRI usually gives us headphones to listen to music but I could only use earplugs. (There are such things as open MRIs for those who just can’t do one of these.)

The noise alternated between: jackhammer/a hammer tapping on my butt/a knocking noise, staccato/a low, deep buzzing that — reframe! stay calm! — sounded like being inside a not very interesting Philip Glass or Steve Reich composition.

Meds: Flexeril, Prednisone, Advil, codeine, Tramadol. Only Advil and codeine work well in my system; the others produce nasty side effects and I stopped taking two of them right away. About to start Voltaren and Prevacid.

I’ve been to my orthopods — a group practice (now on specialist number four there) — since 2000, when I had my first knee arthroscopy. I know their phone number off by heart and have been next door to the physical therapists, or PTs, who I wrote about, with gratitude, for The New York Times, since then many, many times.

I am not 80!

But, which is deeply, frustratingly painful and annoying, my left hip, when it acts up, behaves like I’m about 106. I have osteoarthritis there — like 2 million other Americans — which means either painful inflammation (which rest and drugs can help) or thinning cartilage (which they cannot.)

As someone who lives to move athletically: softball, jazz dance, walking, biking, hiking — I am losing cartilage — and trying not to panic because my life’s core identity, my social life, my stress relief — are all through sports, activity and motion.

Jane Brody, longtime New York Times health writer, recently wrote about how essential exercise — and its social joys — are to her and her readers:

So many nonhealth benefits keep me exercising every day that I’m sure my life would be greatly diminished without them.

Shortly after 6 the other morning, a stunning full moon hugging the horizon enhanced our walk around our local park, and I remarked, “Look what the stay-a-beds are missing.” Soon after came a picture-postcard scene of two Siberian huskies trotting through the snow-covered woods. The week before, we were treated to glorious snow-laden trees as we trudged through the falling snow.

Note that I said “we.” Two to five of us walk for an hour every morning. We chat about our days, share our thoughts and problems, seek and offer advice, bolster sagging spirits, provide logistical support, alert one another to coming cultural events, discuss the news, books, articles and what-have-you. No matter how awful I may feel when I get up in the morning, I always feel better after that walk. And so I always do it, come rain, shine or blizzard.

The members of this walking group, which I joined (admittedly reluctantly) about 15 years ago, have become more than dear friends. They are a sounding board for any and all problems, providing both emotional and practical support when needed. They have introduced me to wonderful activities — museum and gallery shows, concerts and operas, movies and books — I might have otherwise missed.

I miss my jazz dance class, my softball buddies and the fellow walkers on our reservoir, all off limits until I am pain-free and stronger.

I clicked around four Manhattan blocks with my cane today. It helped me stay erect — and visually warned self-absorbed, fast-walking New Yorkers to not bump into me!

I am am very grateful for: having something that is treatable and not life-threatening; excellent, compassionate doctors and the insurance that allows me to see them; warm spring sunshine so I can rest, as ordered, on a park bench outdoors.

  1. This definitely won’t make you feel better, but at least take comfort that you’re not in your 20s with somewhat of the same problem.

    I’m too chicken to go to the doctor to diagnose the chronic inflammation of my left knee (and now my left knuckles!) By my research it’s a buildup of synovial fluid, a.k.a osteoarthritis.

    I exercise regularly and walk just about everywhere, but don’t engage in really strenuous sports so I haven’t a clue what could possibly have caused it.

  2. Go! Not that it’s fun, but I had a needle in my knee after my first arthroscopy to remove built-up fluid. The Voltaren I am now taking is deisigned to remove the same thing — excess fluid. My point is, there is medication and treatment.

    I was very scared the dr.would say I needed a hip replacement.

    Suffering is so painful; if you’ve got insurance, I urge you to get help. It is so common an illness; dr’s know what to do.

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